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County to recieve smart growth help
Regional commission aids with planning
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Newton County is receiving help from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) to plan for smart growth and future mixed-use developments along U.S. Highway 278, such as mixed retail-office and retail-residential buildings.

Tuesday, ARC Representative Stephen Causby presented the ARC’s Community Choices Program (CCP) to the Board of Commissioners. Newton County is receiving assistance through the program to help the county implement previous smart growth recommendations made through the ARC’s Liveable Centers Initiative (LCI), which the county received in January 2006.

Essentially, the LCI makes recommendations for smart growth and the CCP enables those recommendations to actually occur by proposing to replace or alter the official zoning ordinances, which regulates which types of buildings may be built and how they may be built. The BOC will vote on the proposed new ordinance, when it is completed.

Through the CCP, the ARC will send planning and zoning experts to work with local government, organizations, businesses and citizens to create new or altered zoning ordinances that would allow the these entities to achieve their smart growth goals.

Some of the general goals included in other LCIs are redeveloping town centers or road corridors with mixed-use developments and providing access to a range of travel modes including transit, roadways and walking and biking to increase access to buildings, according to the ARC.

The City of Covington already passed a new zoning ordinance in the summer of 2008, based on the 2006 LCI recommendations. The new ordinance eliminates some of the city's more cumbersome zoning districts that did not give much flexibility to developers and replaces them with ones that emphasize high density and mixed-use developments wherever possible, according to a July 2, 2008 article by The News.

Specific examples of changes made by the ordinance included a requirement for more architectural elements and glass windows every 20 feet to break up large expanses of blank walls in buildings. Another requirement was that parking spaces for new developments must not come between the front of a building and its sidewalks, but must instead be located to the side of or behind buildings.

The CCP process will go like this: the ARC will meet with a group of stakeholders to discuss the type of growth the stakeholders want and how that growth can be achieved, Causby said. County Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin said the stakeholder group will be organized in Newton County and will consist of two committees.

"One will be the steering committee, which will be a smaller group of folks who meet regularly with ARC and county staff. Representatives from Newton County Smart Growth, Newton County Homebuilders Association and the Center [for Community Preservation and Planning], as well as local developers and Commissioner Tim Fleming, will serve on this committee," Sirotkin said. "I am anticipating there will also be a larger stakeholders committee that will include anyone who is interested (property owners, business owners, etc.) in addition to the steering committee."

Causby said that the stakeholders’ meetings will conduct more research on similarly-sized communities and put together a draft of what a new zoning ordinance should entail. The ARC will then take that back to Newton County and continue to revise the proposed ordinance as necessary. The process usually takes between six and 12 months, Causby said.